For the first time in nearly two decades, men’s tennis did not compete in a single match in the month of January.
Entering the spring season with a young roster, recently appointed head coach and extra time without competition, the Colonials are looking to turn their early-season lull into an advantage by compensating with more time on the practice courts.
GW last competed in November at the Navy Gold Invitational where four players, including three freshmen, posted perfect 3-0 records in pool play. Nearly three months have passed since their strong start and the team said they have had ample time to focus on fitness and match practice to prepare for the upcoming spring schedule.
“We’ve just been working a lot as a team together,” freshman Ryan Navarro said. “We’ve been training almost every day of the week focusing on fitness as well, trying to get in as good a shape as possible.”
Navarro was one of the players to go undefeated in pool play at the Navy Gold Invitational and topped it off by claiming victory over Columbia sophomore Rian Pandole in the B Flight Singles Final by default.
Navarro paired up with fellow freshman Hanyu Liu for doubles play where the duo lost in the A Flight Final, but even after a long break since his success Navarro said he is still riding the high from a strong fall slare.
“It was actually a really nice way to end the fall season,” Navarro said. “Just good knowing that I can go into the spring season confident knowing I can take down some of the better guys that are playing.”
Head coach Rob Castille, who took charge of the program in the middle of the team’s fall slate, said the winter break has been his first opportunity to spend time instructing players without the interruption of competitive play. The team has been focusing on getting their fitness levels up while getting back into the groove of official practices.
“I was actually pretty excited about that because that gave us time to really get guys back, really work with them,” Castille said. “I came in the middle of the season and it’s been a good opportunity for me to put my stamp on the team.”
January competition typically consists of nonconference matches, and the decision to take off play in January was made by former head coach David Macpherson, who created the schedule for the year before departing from the program.
After spending the first few days of practice easing the team back into play and shaking off the cobwebs, Castille said he has been simulating game-day matches in practices by having players face off against each other and creating a competitive environment for the team in lieu of official competition.
“I was pleased with the competitiveness,” Castille said. “There were some disputes, on line calls here and there, spiciness, fist pumping and that’s good to see because you get the match started.”
Out of nine rostered players, six are freshmen, making this squad the youngest since the 2014-15 team that also featured six first-years. They will play a significant amount of matches in the spring, giving them experience early in their collegiate careers, Castille said.
“It’s a learning process and we’re going to have four or five freshmen, first-years, playing in the top-six so there is going to be somewhat of a learning curve,” Castille said. “We as coaches have to remind ourselves of that too, but we also have to strive to do our best to get them over that.”
GW’s first test of the work put in over the winter came on Sunday in a match against A-10 competition, La Salle. The Colonials downed the Explorers 6–1 and were paced by a strong showing from Navarro and sophomore Dennis Afanasev’s 6-0 doubles performance.
“There’s obviously no substitute for the real thing but you know we do the best we can to kind of make competitive situations,” Castille said. “While it is your teammate, they want to win, competitive nature takes over and we let them do that and that will help prepare them for the matches.”
The Colonials continue their spring schedule Friday with a match against Georgetown in College Park, Md. First serve is scheduled for 9 a.m.